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On your Mark

Law and grace

One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?” He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.” Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:23-28, NIV)

The story is told that Dr. Harry Ironside, the late pastor of Moody Church in Chicago, many years ago once brought a young man with him on a train to Oakland, Calif. A few days later, Ironside found himself in a small Bible study where other young people fell to arguing about the relationship of law to grace.

Finally, the young man who traveled with him and who had not been a Christian very long, spoke up:

“When Mr. Ironside asked me to go to Oakland with him, I had never been on a train before. We traveled all day, and finally came to Barstow out in the desert.

“I was very tired, so I got off the train to walk the platform and stretch my legs. I saw a sign that read DO NOT SPIT HERE. I looked at that sign and thought, What a strange sign to put up, DO NOT SPIT HERE.

“But while I looked at that sign, the next thing I knew, I spit! I thought to myself, How strange. At the very place the sign says, DO NOT SPIT HERE, many people are spitting. I wasn’t the only one.

“We got back on the train and finally arrived at Oakland. Some friends took us to a beautiful home. Mr. Ironside and I went in, and he showed me to a sitting room while he excused himself. I looked around at the soft, thick rug on the floor, beautiful walls painted a lovely color, pictures hanging on the wall, and beautiful furniture.

“I looked all around that room and tried to find a sign that said DO NOT SPIT HERE. But, of course, I couldn’t find such a sign.

“I thought to myself, ironically, Too bad this lovely room is going to be ruined by people spitting on the floor. It was obvious nobody had been spitting there.

“Then the thought occurred to me. When the law demanded, DO NOT SPIT HERE, it made me want to spit. I spit, and many other people spit. But when I came into grace and everything was lovely and nice, I didn’t want to spit and I did not need the law to say, DO NOT SPIT HERE.”

The young man experienced exactly the same situation on the railway platform as Jesus’ disciples, except that the law then said, “DO NOT PICK GRAIN ON THE SABBATH!” Jesus defended His disciples from the criticism of the Pharisees through illustrating from David’s example that genuine human need — whether our own or that of another (the healing of Peter’s mother-in-law on the Sabbath, Mark 1:29-31) trumps obedience to ritualistic demands.

A prayer of response
Lord Jesus, I am saved not because I am good; but because You are good. The law that said, "Do not ... " could never save me. But, You did. You gave me grace. Help me to give others grace when I would rather hold them to the letter of the law.

GEORGE O. WOOD is general superintendent of the Assemblies of God.

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